How did cyanobacteria first embark on the path to becoming plastids? Lessons from protist symbioses

Gregory S. Gavelis, Gillian Gile

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Symbioses between phototrophs and heterotrophs (a.k.a 'photosymbioses') are extremely common, and range from loose and temporary associations to obligate and highly specialized forms. In the history of life, the most transformative was the 'primary endosymbiosis,' wherein a cyanobacterium was engulfed by a eukaryote and became genetically integrated as a heritable photosynthetic organelle, or plastid. By allowing the rise of algae and plants, this event dramatically altered the biosphere, but its remote origin over one billion years ago has obscured the sequence of events leading to its establishment. Here, we review the genetic, physiological and developmental hurdles involved in early primary endosymbiosis. Since we cannot travel back in time to witness these evolutionary junctures, we will draw on examples of unicellular eukaryotes (protists) spanning diverse modes of photosymbiosis. We also review experimental approaches that could be used to recreate aspects of early primary endosymbiosis on a human timescale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfny209
JournalFEMS Microbiology Letters
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018



  • Cyanobiont
  • Dinoflagellate
  • Dinotom
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Genetic engineering
  • Paulinella

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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